Records fall as track heats up for the summer season

The surface at Curraheen Park has been very fast in recent months and so it was no great surprise to see two track records broken on Saturday night, but the hardest question to answer is why it took so long for the 550 mark to go.

Shouragh Matty set new figures for 525 yards over hurdles, posting 28.78. It was a very good run — it wouldn’t be fair to take anything away from it — but it was a vulnerable mark and probably still is.

Bay Star became the first greyhound to dip under 29 seconds when posting 28.99 back in 2006 and that record stood for quite some time.

However, last year management made a concerted effort to resurrect greyhound racing in the south and, for all intents and purposes and for those who appreciate such racing, it was and continues to be quite successful.

Since its reinvigoration, the track record has been lowered three times, firstly by Razldazl Will, with his 28.85 return in June of 2013, and then by Kiel Razzle, who took just one spot off the mark last Saturday week.

But that figure stood for just seven days until Shouragh Matty’s flawless 28.78 last weekend and, if the track is running as well this Saturday as last, it could go again in the final of the Rockybay Munster Hurdle.

But it should be noted that there are extenuating circumstances. When jump racing returned, the obstacles themselves were cut to the butt, and are now little more than a nuisance to the greyhounds. There isn’t really much jumping in them — certainly not enough to really halt momentum, as would have been the case in the past.

They can still be enough to put off some runners, but if a greyhound meets them perfectly on stride, they can post very fast times. That was the most impressive facet of Shouragh Matty’s record-breaking performance, and it’s interesting to watch re-runs of that race to see how he flicked through the hurdles and then to go to greyhound-data.com to watch how Bay Star had to make a real effort to jump the then much larger obstacles en route to his record run.

The setting of the 550 mark, however, is the true sign of the speed of the track because, in a manner, Ghost Town’s record-breaking run in an A2 is a little difficult to explain.

It’s not because the lightly raced sort hasn’t always been capable of doing a clock, but rather that there hadn’t been a sub-29.70 run since May 2009 — and he didn’t just dip under it, he went almost five lengths below that mark, with his 29.36 victory, which was six spots quicker than Goldstar Lee’s record, set in 2006.

It has always seemed there wasn’t a direct correlation between the 550 and 525 times here, certainly not the 1.30 guided in the grading system. Every year since 2003 there has been at least one sub 28.20 run over 525 and yet a sub-29.70 run was almost the Holy Grail for 550 these past number of years.

One of the more obvious reasons is that there are more 525 races of a higher grade and the Laurels attracts top-class runners to the track each year. But that’s not a satisfactory answer because the 550 record was broken by a dog running in an A2, and surely over the years a greyhound of a similar calibre would have managed to ‘get free’ over the trip.

The 550 run itself is a very fair one, with a long run to the turn and, using the sectionals as a guide, the distance would seem to be pretty accurate (certainly relatively to the 525) as the flying 4.55 split by Ghost Town tallies nicely with a 3.25 (-1.30), which would be extremely fast for 525.

Whether it’s down to the weather, the sand, the maintenance routine, or something else, it’s clear the track has returned to the kind of level it was running at some six and more years ago.

Were we to take the rating of tracks very seriously on a national scale, it might raise questions, but leaving that aside for now, were the overall quality of greyhound to improve at Curraheen, it would be no surprise to see further records tumble.

During the week, the IGB announced the rebranding of greyhound racing in Ireland, with an emphasis on the ten board-run individual stadia having their own websites and strategies to attract local business.

The individual sites (curraheenpark.ie, youghalgreyhoundstsdium.ie, etc.) are not up and running yet — for now they’ll redirect you back to igb.ie. I’ve heard plenty of concern about money being spent on this which could be directed elsewhere, but it’s too early to comment as something has to be done to get people back into the tracks.

I can certainly understand the argument that IGB is not a very recognisable brand, and will be interested to see how the new strategy works out. Only time will tell how successful it is.

On a much less significant scale, there was good news with the assurance that users will not be logged out from the IGB website as frequently as in the past. For someone, such as myself, who depends on the site and spends a lot of time watching race videos, it’s one step towards a headache-free workday.

The summer season has hit Youghal and from now until the August 22, entry to the track for racing each Friday and Monday, beginning tomorrow night, is free, courtesy of the sponsorship of the Track Supporters’ Club.

The weekend’s track action is highlighted by Droopys Nidge’s participation in the ECC Timber Open 550 semi-finals at Shelbourne. He had questions to answer prior to the opening round, but did so in some style. Although it was only his fourth outing and I, wearing a punter’s hat, won’t be happy until I see him go through the stake unbeaten, there’s no doubt he is one of the most exciting trackers to hit the scene for some time.

The real beauty is that he looks a natural 550 dog, which makes him an obvious Derby candidate. For last week’s 29.32 victory — the fourth fastest time ever over course and distance — he is now as low as 10-1 favourite (best 14) for the Classic. This weekend will go another small step towards revealing whether or not he’s worthy of such quotes.


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